Friday, September 16, 2016

The Informed Consumer

These days I've had the opportunity to take a really interesting course at school: Sustainable Business Practices.  Now, this may seem like a very normal course for someone to take - but for me it's something special because as a hospitality student we don't have much opportunity to study things beyond specifically hotels.  After working on a very interesting project of analysing the corporate responsibility efforts of different brands from Disney to Patagonia all the way to South West Airlines, it made me think of how many businesses are actually participating in CSR movements.

This entire blog is based off of corporate social responsibility - used in a personal manner, yet I have never thought that the solutions to the problems we are facing is using this personal power in conjunction with companies CSR programs.  Let me explain my train of thought, basically I believe if people and businesses could both work together to improve corporate social responsibilty many of the problems of polluting and social injustices in the world would start to alleviate - not neccesarily go away but at least improve.  However, my mistake was in understanding the role of the business and the role of the person.  Personally we can all make efforts to lower our carbon footprint and treat others the way we would like to be treated.  However, this makes a very small impact (but it is still important - so continue doing what you're doing to better the world).  What businesses are doing though, is making CSR changes to their business based on the markets demands.  They are not making 100% of the difference they could if they solely reduced their carbon footprint out of sheer good will; and that makes sense because corporations act in accordance to the market and what makes business sense.

This is where I had been going wrong.  I thought that my efforts were mine alone and that the small actions would add up sooner or later.  While this might be true, a bigger affect I might have had was being lost through all of my irrisponsible purchases.  Of course when I went to the store I was choosing the cheapest item - who wouldn't?  The project made me realize something though, not all businesses were made the same.  If you were to compare Patagonia with any other type of cheap clothing manufacturer there is a huge difference between social policies protecting workers to environmental policies trying to use sustainable resources.  Its hard to imagine that just one purchase at a responsible store versus a cheap vendor would make a large difference, just as using less shower water might not make an extremely large difference in water consumption.  However, this is not true.

When you support a responsible business, these businesses are being supported by your money to continue doing the right thing.  This can affect many many people all the way to secondary suppliers of these businesses.  Of course, one purchase is small but it has two effects built into one.  First, it is giving money to those businesses that are acting responsibly, but secondly, it takes away money that would have gone to potentially irrisponsible businesses.  This positively impacts the market two fold because it allows responsibilty to flourish all the while encouraging those who are irrisponsible to change to be responsible making it a market demand.

So, I am trying to find ways to find which businesses are responsible and which are not.  I would like to (as much as possible) find a way to be an informed consumer.  At the moment the best way I have found is to see which companies are being transparent.  A good method of rating this is by looking at a businesses G4 report lead by the Global Reporting Initiative.  It will detail everything from their human rights support all the way to their environmental policies hiding nothing in between such as supply chain forced labor and child labor practicies and numbers.  Although these are quite bulky reports, they are quite useful when trying to make a decision on who to use as a supplier, who to invest in, and now who to spend your money on.

I know its a long shot to evaluate every single purchase made, so thats why I'm proposing a sort of comprimise.  Anytime we are going to make a rather large purchase, look first, be informed, and choose the more responsible company to support with your money.  The impact can make a bigger difference than our other efforts, and its rather simple in comparison.  No one is perfect and can monitor each and every transaction, but that one could make the difference between a company deciding to implement a more comprehensive CSR stragey - which can affect thousands upon thousands of people down the line.

Let me know what you think about being an informed consumer? Do you think it has such a large effect, and if so which are your favorite responsible businesses?